So you want to take part in one of those TV military fitness programmes, or actually join the army?

Maybe you like the idea of being a reality Tv star, or you want to meet Ant Middleton, but lots of people want to get onto programmes like SAS: Who Dares Wins and Special forces Ultimate Hell Week.

Interest in military fitness regimes has also been stoked up by books such as “Can’t Hurt Me” by David Goggins and our relentless diet of war films.

Having been involved in the training of a few wannabe participants, chatted to a contestant who got a good way through the process, and having analysed the challenges, I thought it would be helpful to offer some general training and preparation advice.

I have a motto, stolen from an ancient greek warrior. In a crisis, you do not rise to the challenge, you sink to the level of your training. Success in these types of programs , and indeed success in applying for a position in the army, and their elite corps, requires you to be properly trained for the challenges you can anticipate.

Lower down in this article you find details of how military fitness testing goes, and the standards they expect. However, here is your take home message. To successfully survive one of these regimes, I say you need a good back ground in being “outdoors”. Do you love going for hikes in the rain and getting soaked. Do you know how to manage wet clothing. Are you ok with sleeping outside, and essentially are you ok with operating on limited sleep and getting up at 2, 3am and going for a run. Do you love camping. Would you turn down some super sex for a 10k run?

If your preparation only involves going to the gym, at sociable times, the chances are you’ll be screwed.

Let me rephrase this. You need to be able to put up with crap they don’t even have names for. Are you used to insect bites, going for a pooh in a bush, stinking and running in boots. Have you had blisters on your blisters, and can you work through the discomfort of a wet pant band working their way into your crotch.

Do you like the cold? Well you better like those morning cold showers and going out in all sorts of weather. On the plus side, getting used to the cold has benefits. A few years ago, “Thermal loading” was all the rage!

There is another type of training you should consider. It’s mindset. Doing a lot of mindset work would probably help; learning how to break big tasks into little task: it may be 4 am in the morning, you may have run 8 miles, you may be at the end of your tether but, maybe you can get to that tree thats 50m away. Ok, now let’s try that house 40m away. Not letting the enormity of the task overwhelm you is important.

This involves dealing with fear The science fiction fans amoung you will recall this monologue from Dune

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

To be successful you probably need to distinguish the difference between fear and recognising danger. Fear is often described as False Evidence Appearing Real. Fear is an impractical emotion. Recognising danger and taking appropriate action is good. Being paralysed by fear, isn’t.

Lord Moran, ( Winston Churchill’s physician, and a trench doctor in WW1) said “Courage is a moral quality; it is not a chance gift of nature like an aptitude for games. It is a cold choice between two alternatives, the fixed resolve not to quit; an act of renunciation which must be made not once but many times by the power of the will. Courage is willpower.” (The Anatomy of Courage).

This is part of working out how you think . Are you already looking for your excuse, or are you thinking, “I’m going to give this 100%”. Having a victim mentality can quickly bring your performance to an end. Combating a perfectionist mindset is also part of the magic. You’ll be slower and feel like you cannot succeed. Ignore that and just continue.

It’s worth remembering that 90% fail (the real) SAS selection, and most of these simply give up. The instructors rarely have to fail people.

The last thing you need to prepare for is lack of sleep. This is truly awful. Here are the consequences of not sleeping (Ref):

Humans can bear several days of continuous sleeplessness, but it screws everything. It may lead to deteriorated functioning, impaired perception, reducing concentration, vision disturbances, slower reactions, as well as lower capabilities and efficiency of task performance and to an increased number of errors.

It screws with your thinking which means wrong decisions, and emotional disturbances such as deteriorated interpersonal responses and increased aggressiveness.

Being woken up at 2 am to do a run or burpees is really, really awful. It is however a reality that soldiers at times need to operate in a sleep deprived state. There are some interesting tips and hints here but, it seems that you’ll need to set yourself some middle of the night exercise sessions. “Exposing soldiers to fatigue in a training environment teaches them how it affects them and their performance. Learning the consequences in a protected environment will help them identify the issues caused by sleep deprivation, so that they can know how deal with them before reaching combat. Likewise, understanding why you’re tired can help you power through the day”(National Sleep Foundation)

If you are from a farming background, you probably have some experience of sleep disturbing work like lambing, milking and chasing poachers. I knew a financial broker who got up to trade at 3am. I think after a few years he went a bit mad: but that could have been the drugs and the booze.

David Goggins, the navy seal, suggested an interesting task. It’s called a 4x4x48. In other words you go for a 4 mile run every 4 hours for 48 hours. That will give you a very good idea of what sleep deprivation feels like, although, I’d start at something like 2 x 4 x 12, and build up!

So, thats the background . What follows are the physical tests along with some official guidance from the military like this US Navy Seal training guide. Download and read it. Its free and useful

With these points in mind, you need to prepare for the actual standards. Either you have the knowledge to develop an effective training regime to master these, or you need a PT /or a coach

  • 4km loaded march with 40kg within 50mins followed by 2km with 25kg in 15 mins (Infantry/RAC). The times allowed for 16 AAB/Paras are shortened to 35mins and 12.30mins respectively.
  • Fire and movement tactical bounds, followed by crawl and sprint ( 20 x 7.5 m bounds , or mini sprints. Then crawl 15m, sprint 15 m in 55 seconds
  • Casualty drag (110kg bag) dragged 20m in 55 seconds
  • Water can carry (simulates stretcher carry with 2 x 22kg cans) over 240 meters in 2 mins.
  • Vehicle casevac (70kg lift with 3 second hold)
  • Repeated lift & carry (20kg bags over distance) 20 x 30m in 14 minutes

I say you should not only be familiar with these challenges. You should do them, often, as part of your training. I think you should see these as the absolute minimum standards. Whilst I’m not sure, I’d prepare to do these tests with boots on.

The Royal Marines’ Pre-Joining Fitness Test allegedly involves completing two 2.4km runs on a treadmill that is set to a 2% incline. The first run must be completed in less than 12 minutes 30 seconds. You will then have a one-minute break before completing the second run in under 10 minutes and 30 seconds. This time is the absolute minimum requirement, and the expectation is that you will record the best time possible. You can use this chart to assess where you are

There are 4 body weight challenges. You should aim to ace them all. Why would you humiliate yourself on TV if you can only do 10 push ups if you know that 60 is the standard.

  • The VO2 Max bleep test (also known as the ‘bleep test’.) Minimum pass score is level 10.5. Shoot for the max!
  • Press ups are carried out immediately after the bleep test. A maximum score is achieved for 60 press-ups are conducted to an audible bleep (listen to the video below). Arms should be locked into side, shoulder width apart. The partner puts his fist on the floor facing away and counts one repetition for every time the chest touches his fist. If you put your knees onto the floor you will be told to stop.
  • Sit-ups come straight after the press-ups. 85 are needed for maximum points. Sit ups are conducted to an audible bleep. A partner holds the feet, elbows must touch top of knees and then the shoulders and elbows must touch the floor on the way down for a repetition to count. Knees must remain together or else reps will be deducted.
  • Pullups follow situps. A minimum of 3 are required to stay on the course but any less than 5 will be looked at critically and 16 will gain the maximum score. The over-grasp grip is used, the candidate is required to pull and hold the position until told to extend the arms; pull-ups are performed to the “bend” and “stretch” commands. The candidates chin must pass over the top of the bar to count and on the way down our body must be straight hanging down from the bar. Your legs must not cross. If the chin does not satisfactorily pass above the bar, or candidates cannot keep up with the commands, the candidate will be told to “drop off”.

The pool assessments include jumping off a high diving board (3m) in normal swimming kit and swimming a maximum of 4 lengths (approx 100m) of breast stroke followed by retrieving a brick from the bottom of the pool which is 3m deep. Train these skills. That brick retrival can be tricky. Learn to swim outdoors, in the cold, in clothes. For God sake have a life guard nearby. I think there are some outdoor swimming places like this one in the Royal docks in East London.

Other testing includes
  • The “Tarzan Assault Course” conducted up to 30 foot off the ground. Deal with your vertigo issues, or don’t apply!
  • The bottom field assault course which involves team games and other arduous physical activities.
  • An endurance course lasting 90 minutes and covering 2.5 miles undertaken on Woodbury Common
  • An over-night exercise which is intended to promote team building.

To train these, you’d better be a regular at your local Tough Mudder or Spartan Race. You need a t-shirt that says “I do love an obstacle race”. As I have said else where, if you don’t like getting wet, feeling cold, being woken up in the middle of the night, you really don’t want to apply for one of these programs, or the actual army for that matter. Familiarity with rope climbing and ab-sailing can probably be obtained at your local climbing centre. In the East End we have the Mile End Climbing wall

If you want to apply to be on SAS Who Dares Wins click here

If you are insane enough to want to do this, feel free to ask me for some in real life (if you are in the East End of London) or Online PT sessions.

Isometrics revisited

in the 60’s to 70’s  you would have been hard pressed to ignore the isometrics movement. Vic O’beck published “How to Exercise without moving a muscle” in 1964 and it became very popular.

During the late 60’s early 70’s the Daily Express ran a regular cartoon in its pages which popularised the exercise regime. The cartoons were eventually bundled into a book Isometrics. How to exercise without moving a muscle, in strip cartoons from the Daily Express.

Like many fitness fades, the interest faded from main stream use, due in part to silly claims. A regime that promises to get you fit and trim in 90 seconds a day is bound to sell you the book or course, but fail to deliver much , if any, fitness.

This is a shame, as given the right objectives, the static hold has a really useful role to play. According to James Hewitt who wrote Isometrics for you: Get fit and trim in 90 seconds a day in 1966  “without special apparatus and without moving a muscle you can grow stronger and build, or reshape your body to nearer your hearts’ desire. The static  contraction has been part of physical culture systems  for a very long time. Hatha yoga contains postures  held without movement”.

Put simply, isometrics are a system of physical exercises in which muscles are caused to act against each other or against a fixed object. It’s a form of exercise involving the static contraction of a muscle without any visible movement in the angle of the joint.

The popular regimes focused on basic body building type exercises and suggested a 6  second static contraction  with a maximum, or comfortable maximum contraction. This bicep curl picture gives you a good idea.

bicepcurl

Whilst this had some value, the use of the extended static hold in functional fitness is probably in developing the capacity to simply hold postures which contribute to actual exercises. The reality is that if you want to kick up to a rock solid free standing handstand, or do 20 plus pull ups, you better be able to hold a static ( albeit “leaning” ) handstand against the wall, and hang for 60, 90, 120, 180 seconds. Extra grip strength is always useful!

Btw you could find yourself struggling at 10 seconds when you start. Just do what you can and build up

So think about your regime and hunt out obvious postures to practice: the side planks, lunging pushes against a wall and deadlift holds spring to mind. Adding the L sit, a horse stance ( the old martial arts favourite) and a “hip up” hold can , when combined,  make a really useful home exercise regime.

No more, “I cannot get to the gym”!!

Home pull up bar and gymnastic rings

When working through my home training courses, the chances are you will need a pull up bar. Many landlords won’t let you screw them into a wall, so get one that slides in and out of a door way. I’ve liked the JML one because, like me, its been around for ages,

JML Awesome Gym Door Frame Workout/Pull-Up Bar Home Gym for Upper Body Exercises

but there are lots of cheaper ones around too

I have to say that I own my own home so, Ive screwed mine into the wall.

Once you have a pull up bar, you can get a set of gymnastic rings. I started importing them in 2005 in tiny batches, and I think they cost £50 plus.

Today £20 gets you a nice wooden pair. Here is a good example, opt for wood if you can.

Sundried Wooden Gymnastic Rings with Straps Exercise Gym Rings Crossfit Gymnastics Athletic Dip Rings

Build your Push ups

There are a lot of very dull, unimaginative push up regimes on the internet. My aim is to get you 100 push ups in, about, 6 weeks.

For the purposes of the first part of this this post, Im going to assume you can do 10 strict push ups in one go. (If you have none, skip further down)

The 1st thing i need you to do is to do a test, one today, one tomorrow. today I want you to attempt the most continuous push ups you can. Record it.

Tomorrow, I want you to attempt as many push ups as you can in 2 minutes . You can take as many breaks as you like, you can do lots of singles. Does not matter. Just do as many as you can in 2 minutes.

This gives you an interesting base line to begin with.

For now, you have two alternating protocols to follow

1) Without being too prescriptive, I need you to get to 10 sets of 10 push ups, with no more than 90 seconds rest. At this stage, this means, shooting for 10 reps, then resting for 90 seconds, so the reps could look like this.

10, 10, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 4, 6, 8.

2) 3 sets of maximum push ups. go down and do as many push ups as you can, rest 2 minutes, then do it again 2 more times.

So, do 1 on day 1, 2 on day 2, then a rest day. then 1 and 2 again.

That should get you started for now.

BUT WHAT IF YOU HAVE NO PUSH UPS. Ive seen lots of people with no push ups struggling on “box” and knee versions. Whilst they are interesting if you are really really weak, i have never seen anyone successfully get a full push up by using these shortened versions. The 2 best techniques to use are the eccentric phase and Isometrics. Put simply, get into the top of a push up, and lower yourself down as slowly as you can. Do this 4 or 5 times with 60 seconds rest ( more if you need it.). Then while lying on the floor, try and push yourself up. Put as much effort in as you can, and push for 7 seconds. Rest for 30 seconds and go again. ( say 4 times). You may not move, but you are building the specific strength to do so.

Body fat calculator

Knowing your fat percentage is one of the best fitness tests you can do.

The best way to assess your body fat percentage is to get me to whip out my fat calipers.

However, for those of you who don’t fancy that experience, I quite like the zone body fat calculator.

Get a tape measure with inches and fill-out this interesting online calculator

Click here

A sort of a sit up test

Coming from a functional fitness back ground, the  sit up procedure suggested by Goulding is a bit of a shocker!!

Lie on the floor  with your knees bent at approximately right angles, with feet flat on the ground. Your hands should be resting on your thighs. Just slide your hands along your thighs to touch the top of your knees, then back to the starting position (don’t tug or strain your neck)

Do it for 1 minute

Allow the table below to Judge you!

1 Minute Sit Up Test (Men)

Age 18-25 26-35 36-45 46-55 56-65 65+
Excellent >49 >45 >41 >35 >31 >28
Good 44-49 40-45 35-41 29-35 25-31 22-28
Above average 39-43 35-39 30-34 25-28 21-24 19-21
Average 35-38 31-34 27-29 22-24 17-20 15-18
Below Average 31-34 29-30 23-26 18-21 13-16 11-14
Poor 25-30 22-28 17-22 13-17 9-12 7-10
Very Poor <25 <22 <17 <13 <9 <7

1 Minute Sit Up Test (Women)

Age 18-25 26-35 36-45 46-55 56-65 65+
Excellent >43 >39 >33 >27 >24 >23
Good 37-43 33-39 27-33 22-27 18-24 17-23
Above average 33-36 29-32 23-26 18-21 13-17 14-16
Average 29-32 25-28 19-22 14-17 10-12 11-13
Below Average 25-28 21-24 15-18 10-13 7-9 5-10
Poor 18-24 13-20 7-14 5-9 3-6 2-4
Very Poor <18 <13 <7 <5 <3 <2

Source: adapted from Golding, et al. (1986). The Y’s way to physical fitness (3rd ed.)

Push up test

The old favourite push up test. Loved by some hated by many. This is supposed to be the amount of push ups you can do before exhaustion. Surprisingly this is not chest to floor, but elbows to 90 degree.

Allegedly, those with weaker upper body strength, can drop their knees to the floor and test from there

Table: Push Up Test norms for MEN

Age 17-19 20-29 30-39 40-49 50-59 60-65
Excellent > 56 > 47 > 41 > 34 > 31 > 30
Good 47-56 39-47 34-41 28-34 25-31 24-30
Above average 35-46 30-39 25-33 21-28 18-24 17-23
Average 19-34 17-29 13-24 11-20 9-17 6-16
Below average 11-18 10-16 8-12 6-10 5-8 3-5
Poor 4-10 4-9 2-7 1-5 1-4 1-2
Very Poor < 4 < 4 < 2 0 0 0

Table: Push Up Test norms for WOMEN

Age 17-19 20-29 30-39 40-49 50-59 60-65
Excellent > 35 > 36 > 37 > 31 > 25 > 23
Good 27-35 30-36 30-37 25-31 21-25 19-23
Above Average 21-27 23-29 22-30 18-24 15-20 13-18
Average 11-20 12-22 10-21 8-17 7-14 5-12
Below average 6-10 7-11 5-9 4-7 3-6 2-4
Poor 2-5 2-6 1-4 1-3 1-2 1
Very Poor 0-1 0-1 0 0 0 0

* Source: adapted from Golding, et al. (1986). The Y’s way to physical fitness (3rd ed.)